The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


MARCH 2015

Identity crisis

Travelogue cum academic exposé fails to deliver

By Vicki L. Beyer

BookPAnyone who has spent time in Tokyo is likely to admit to a love–hate relationship with Roppongi. As a neighborhood, it is simultaneously fascinating and disgusting, alluring and repulsive. It is the only place in Tokyo where I’ve ever seen rats (of the furry, four-legged variety, that is).

Roman Adrian Cybriwsky’s book, Roppongi Crossing: The Demise of a Tokyo Nightclub District and the Reshaping of a Global City, seems to promise insights into the neighborhood, its history, and its most recent evolution. Alas, like Roppongi itself, it doesn’t fully deliver on its promise.

As the book veers from academic treatment to journalistic exposé to personal travelogue, the reader winds up feeling that the author couldn’t make up his mind on just what his book should be. Perhaps this is fitting, in light of Cybriwsky’s admission at the end that he is uncertain just how he feels about Roppongi.

Unfortunately for the reader, the lack of a focused approach makes the book rather unapproachable.
Roppongi Crossing is structured into chapters that are too long, à la academic style, with subsections that often do not flow or transition well.

The author also seems compelled to cross-reference his narrative to other chapters to a distracting degree, which contributes to the sense that the book is not well organized.

At the outset, Cybriwsky gives his personal reasons for a study of Roppongi and then spends about 20 pages describing his method. To the extent that this book purports to be an academic study, perhaps that is appropriate, but the detail borders on tedious (the author shares that he taught himself Russian to conduct this study, yet it is evident that he does not speak Japanese).

Also off-putting are the general lack of editing and proofreading (not uncommon in modern books, but unfortunate nonetheless), the dig Cybriwsky takes at the publisher of an earlier book, and his need to tell us, repeatedly, where he strayed from academic method or chose not to examine a subject fully.

In his attempt to place Roppongi in the context of Tokyo, Cybriwsky spends a great deal of time outlining the rest of the city’s development, only skimming over the Meiji-era reasons for situating so many embassies in Roppongi, as well as the significance of the district’s location relative to the barracks of Occupation-era military. His research is incomplete and shows overreliance on secondary sources.

The same could be said of Cybriwsky’s account of Roppongi’s latest boom into multipurpose towers with large footprints. He has clearly read the promotional materials by the operators of Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, but seems to have gone no further in his research. Thus, he has little new to offer.

What is perhaps most interesting in this book are the sections bordering on journalism cum travelogue, although here too the author seems to have inserted himself more than is necessary or even seemly.

Still, his account enables us to meet many of the people who make up Roppongi’s night-time population.

In particular, Cybriwsky burrows into the dirty underbelly to become acquainted with people widely considered to be Tokyo’s undesirables, those who often aren’t considered at all because they are unseen.

We learn a little more about those people who seem to be just hanging out on the streets drinking.

We are treated to a sympathetic account of the lives of beautiful Russian women who work as hostesses or otherwise trade on their beauty, as well as accounts of Mafioso, street touts, club owners, dishwashers, and street cleaners.

According to Cybriwsky, Roppongi’s current remake may result in a dispersal of this quirky population, as their places of work steadily disappear. Cybriwsky mourns this passing. I wonder how many will join him in this.



Vicki L. Beyer completed four years as an ACCJ vice president on December 31, 2014.